Off Limits

The Denver cops had their hands full Saturday night as drunk and happy fans of the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche poured into LoDo for a night of car-stomping fun. Things got a little unruly, though, and at certain points, the city's finest no doubt felt as though they were caught in a herd of stampeding elephants. So it's only fair that a few hours later, visitors to the Denver Zoo felt like they were in the middle of a hockey riot when they found themselves fleeing from an actual 6,700-pound stampeding elephant. A New Jersey Devils fan, perhaps?

In fact, the situations bear striking similarities.

The puck drops: At the Pepsi Center, a group of highly paid athlete-entertainers, the Ray Bourque-led Avs, win hockey's ultimate trophy, a giant metal container called the Stanley Cup. At the Denver Zoo, an underpaid athlete-entertainer, Hope the Elephant, is startled by the crashing sound of a dropped giant metal container, referred to in news reports only as a 55-gallon drum of raisin juice.

The power play: Thousands of fans explode out of the Pepsi Center, as well as dozens of sports bars, to celebrate the victory by lighting fires, jumping on cars and taunting police. Hope explodes out of an elephant bathing area and runs rampant through the zoo grounds, terrifying thousands of visitors who run for cover.

The penalty box: Although most of the Avs fans end the night on a positive note and go home to sleep it off, many do not, and after a couple of hours, police finally close off streets and break out the tear gas and Mace in order to control the rest of the crowds. Hope gets tangled in a mass of bushes and trees, forcing officials to close the zoo, before her trainer is finally able to subdue her with a tranquilizer and lead her back to her pen after two and a half hours of freedom.

The score: In LoDo, 63 troublemakers, many of them wearing Avs gear, are arrested, and a few dozen more go home or to the hospital with minor injuries. At the zoo, more than 3,000 animal lovers, many of them wearing Avs gear, are evacuated (while demanding refunds) and sent home shaken; a woman and her baby daughter, who was flipped out of a stroller by the marauding elephant, are injured and sent to the hospital. Hope's trainer, Jim Williams, also sustains minor injuries.

The post-game breakdown: The Avs riot is downplayed by the city, and a parade is scheduled for Monday; fans wonder whether free agents Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Patrick Roy will be back next year to attempt a repeat. The Denver Zoo reopens, but without the services of Hope and her nephew, Baby Amigo, who had been entertaining the crowds since May 19 by walking through the zoo doing tricks. The walks, touted by the zoo in this very column last week, are canceled permanently; the clever ads showing how difficult it is to keep an elephant under control are pulled; and Hope is scheduled to be traded back to California.

Both incidents draw national headlines on Monday -- even though June 11 is also the day that one of the biggest stories of the year plays out in Terre Haute, Indiana, as Timothy McVeigh is executed. The city doesn't let that interfere with its celebration, however, and the parade goes on as scheduled, just a few hours after the fatal injections are administered to a mass murderer sentenced to death in a Denver courtroom.

How appropriate on this major news weekend that one of our city's top news execs was a part of the two biggest stories! Kirk MacDonald, president of the Denver Newspaper Agency, which runs the business operations for the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, insists that he normally leads a quiet life. On Saturday, though, he was at the Avs game, now referred to as the biggest sports moment in Denver history; MacDonald says he left the Pepsi Center parking lot quickly after the win, without any detours into LoDo. And on Sunday, "a beautiful day," he remembers, "my daughter and I got up and decided to go to the zoo." But as they circled the grounds on the zoo train for a second time, employees told them that they would have to clear out: There was an elephant on the loose. "It was a very controlled evacuation, and we arrived safely at our car," MacDonald says. "I guess that's just the way it worked out."

And things remained quiet at the zoo Tuesday, even after three members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals showed up unannounced to check on the status of Hope, Amigo and Mimi, another zoo elephant, who'd pushed fellow pachyderm and aging friend Candy to the ground just last week in a surprising and unexpected incident. Candy sustained such severe injuries that the zoo had to euthanize her.

"Elephants are sentient beings, and I talk about them as I would talk about you and I," says PETA volunteer Cynthia Lieberman. "Common practice after an elephant rampages is to put it into seclusion and then beat it into submission -- not that we're saying the zoo is doing this."

No indeed, says zoo spokeswoman Angela Baier, who'd been alerted to the surprise visit and greeted the PETA people, along with more than a half-dozen media members, at the gates, then escorted them all inside. According to Baier, Hope's trainer would never hurt her; the elephant had actually spent part of the day sunning herself outside.

Although this PETA event was tame, Lieberman made a wilder name for herself last month when she bared her soul, as well as her breasts, for the cause of caged tigers by painting her entire body in orange-and-black tiger stripes and then crouched inside a cage wearing nothing but a bikini bottom and a cardboard sign. The protests, in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas, were part of national campaign targeting the Ringling Bros. circus and resulted in two arrests for the Denver tigress.

But Lieberman, who was fully clothed at the Denver Zoo, doesn't want to be known just as a PETA-of-the-month girl. "There's a brain behind the body," she says. And an elephant never forgets.


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